Jenny Simon, Professor of ESL

Jenny Simon received a B.A. in Language Studies, with a concentration in German. In 1997 she received an M.A. in Linguistics too, also from our department. Jenny works as a Professor of English as a Second Language (ESL) at El Camino College in Torrance, CA.

What do you do? Could you describe what the work is like?

I teach English as a Second Language courses at a community college to students who are aiming to take college-level courses but need to improve their English skills to do so. Many of my students are international students with an F-1 visa, a student visa.  Some of the students are permanent residents in the U.S. and have gone to high school here. In general, the students that I work with are extremely motivated and very open to learning, which makes teaching them a pleasure. Our program offers intermediate to advanced-level courses in three “strands”:  writing and grammar, listening and speaking, and reading and vocabulary building.

A full load for a community college professor is 15 hours of classroom time a week, with 5 office hours plus committee work, etc.  So, I’m on campus about 25 hours a week, and then I can grade papers and prepare for class on a more flexible schedule.  I really enjoy the flexibility and independence of this job—it’s part of the reason I decided to pursue this line of work. 

How did you get from a major in Linguistics / Language Studies to where you are now? Did you need any more formal education? If so, how much?

Here is the statement of minimum qualifications for an ESL instructor from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (I have capitalized the part of the minimum qualifications that I met to qualify for my position):

“Master’s degree in TESL, TESOL, applied linguistics with a TESL emphasis, linguistics with a TESL emphasis, English with a TESL emphasis, or education with a TESL emphasis OR bachelor’s degree in TESL, TESOL, English with a TESL certificate, linguistics with a TESL certificate, applied linguistics with a TESL certificate, or ANY FOREIGN LANGUAGE WITH A TESL CERTIFICATE AND MASTER'S DEGREE IN LINGUISTICS, applied linguistics, English, composition, bilingual/bicultural studies, reading, speech, or any foreign language OR the equivalent.”

So, if you are majoring in Language Studies or Linguistics, that’s good.  In addition to that, you’ll need to earn a TESL certificate as well as a master’s degree.

I also have a doctorate in Education (Ed.D.).  It’s not necessary to have a doctorate to teach at a community college, but more education always helps.

How would you describe the career prospects in your field? Is it easy or hard to get work?

In general it’s fairly difficult to get a full-time teaching job at a community college.  It’s very competitive, and there are a lot of applicants.  This has been made worse by the recent cuts to all sectors of public higher education in California. 

However, things are improving—budgets are not being cut as severely, and we might even see some of the money coming back as the economy improves.  Also, keep in mind that, under law, community colleges have to have a certain percentage of their faculty as full-time—namely 75%.  So, even if budgets are tight, some hiring has to take place.

What advice would you give our current students who might be interested in your line of work?

One thing to do if you really want to pursue this line of work is to try to become qualified in more than one discipline (say ESL and English, or ESL and Reading, or ESL and a foreign language). This will only widen the possibilities for you.

Also, most full-time faculty spend several years teaching part-time at more than one institution to gain experience before they land a full-time job.  So, expect to do this for a number of years before landing a full-time position.

Finally, if you’re really interested in pursuing this, try to make as many positive connections as you can with people who would have the power to hire you (e.g. full-time faculty and administrators.)  This will really help you get your foot in the door.